The Problem with Pay Now, Die Later: Funerals Uncovered TV Programme

The Problem with Pay Now, Die Later: Funerals Uncovered TV Programme main image

I watched last night’s ITV Tonight show’s documentary ‘Pay Now, Die Later; Funerals Uncovered’ with varying degrees of frustration and sadness.

Frustration at the lazy, one sided, sensationalised way the documentary was filmed and sadness that this blatant scaremongering will now put some viewers off pre-arranging their funeral services with a funeral plan.

Paying for a funeral has to date caused many families distress and in many cases debt, which is why putting plans in place should be an important part of everyone’s financial planning. Whilst a funeral plan may not be suitable for everyone, chosen wisely it can save hundreds if not thousands of pounds; so why did the documentary take such a negative view?

A one sided story

My first gripe is that the programme was biased and as mentioned sensationalised. It began with a group of ladies on a coach trip, many of whom had bought a funeral plan. They were challenged to see if they understood how funeral plans work by commenting on a fabricated plan that was based on what is available on the market.

The feedback was positive; all felt that they understood how funeral plans work and were happy with their purchase, although they could see how customers may get confused if not explained properly. And there I’m afraid is where the positive story ends.

The thing that really annoys me is that they took the Fairer Finance Report ‘Is the prepaid funeral plan market working well for consumers’ and targeted only the plan providers that were mentioned negatively in the report. For balance there was no talk of the funeral plan providers that came across well in the report such as Golden LeavesDignity and Co op Funeral Plans. Instead they focused on companies that had already been criticised for poor practise.

Of course poor practise in any form is unacceptable but why put viewers off the good guys and planning for the future just for the sake of ratings?

But where does the really money go?

The greatest focus of the documentary was on the fact that not all the money paid by the customer is given to the funeral director; instead a percentage is kept by the funeral plan provider for administering the plan.

Whilst I whole heartedly agree this needs to be clearer, the argument was flawed for a number of reasons and really missed the point of a funeral plan.

When you buy a funeral plan from reputable provider, one that is registered and regulated by the Funeral Planning Authority, it is usually placed with and agreed by a funeral director at that stage. This means that regardless of how much of your money has been given to the funeral director, by agreeing to accept the plan, the funeral director has confirmed that they are happy to provide the services included in the plan at that agreed price.

Therefore regardless of when it is in the future and how much you have paid for your plan in the first instance, the services as listed in your plan will be provided by the funeral director; so there should be no talk of the plan only paying ‘£x’ amount because it is completely irrelevant.

Also on the point of the plan provider taking some of the money – what on earth does the Tonight programme expect? Do you think that a company is going to produce, market and administer a funeral plan and manage your money completely free of charge? You wouldn’t expect it of any other industry so why the funeral planning market?

So what should you expect from a funeral plan?

Unfortunately through all the scaremongering, the real crux of issue was lost, namely what is and isn’t guaranteed in a funeral plan; something we have been shouting about for some time.

When you pay for a funeral, your costs fall into three categories:

  • The funeral directors costs
  • The third party fees
  • Your personal wishes

The funeral directors costs will include things like care of the deceased, the use of the chapel of rest, the coffin and hearse, their services on the day and a limousine if included. These services as listed in the plan will be completely guaranteed.

The third party costs include either the cremation or burial fees, the minister or officiant’s fees for delivering the service and the doctor’s fees if required (cremation only). The majority of plans of only include a contribution towards these fees which means there could be more to pay when the time comes. Only Dignity and Co op guarantee the cremation fees and ministers fees (Co op also guarantee burial fees too if that is your preferred option).

Personal wishes include the non essential services you may want to include such as the order of service cards, flowers and the reception or wake. These more personal items wouldn’t be included in any funeral plan.

If you think about it in these simple terms, choosing the best funeral plan should be fairly straightforward, it’s just unfortunate that the ITV Tonight’s programme failed to explain it in a clear manner and got the facts somewhat muddled.

So if you were thinking about buying a funeral plan but put off by last night’s programme please don’t be; just do your homework.

Yes there are rogue traders out there but publication of Fairer Finance report has already helped to reduce their impact on the industry.

Yes the funeral planning market does need to be better regulated and probably sit within the controls of the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) however choosing a Funeral Planning Authority member will ensure your preferred provider complies with their rules as to how your money is safeguarded and the service you receive.

Yes documentation should be clearer across the market but there are providers such as Co op and Dignity who can safely hold their head above the parapet. Incidentally it was Dignity who commissioned the independent Fairer Finance report in the first place in a bid to clean up the industry.

And most importantly ‘Yes’ a funeral plan can save you money and remove the worry from your family of having to arrange a funeral; you just need to know exactly what services you are buying.

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